New York City ordered to better protect Rikers jail officers

FILE PHOTO: The Rikers Island Prison complex is seen from an airplane in the Queens borough of New York City, New York
REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

New York City must provide corrections officers at Rikers Island jail with protective masks, monitor their temperatures for signs of coronavirus and increase sanitation of their work spaces after dozens of infections at the facility, a judge has ruled.

Officers assigned to work areas housing inmates who have COVID-19, where there are prisoners showing symptoms or who transport such inmates must be given N95 level masks, state judge Pamela Brown wrote in her Friday ruling.

The judge was responding to a lawsuit brought by the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association.

The city has appealed the ruling – which stays the order until the appeal is heard.

Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the New York City Law Department, said the city is deeply concerned about the health and safety of its employees and that “we are confident that the court will recognize the steps we have taken to ensure our correctional facilities are safe.”

The head of the union, Elias Husamudeen, said in an emailed statement that it was “outrageous that we even have to be in court to ensure our employer protects the lives of our members.”

Before the ruling, Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s law department, said New York City and Mayor Bill De Blasio have already been reducing the inmate population to promote social distancing, and increasing cleaning and other sanitary measures.

Rikers Island is one of the world’s largest jails, and has become infamous for violence and poor living conditions. The city hopes to close it by 2026.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas; Editing by Daniel Wallis)